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Josh Norman: Still Worth Avoiding in Fantasy?

With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at whether or not fantasy owners still need to fear the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback.

Norman Hasn’t Been Asked to Shadow Often

Wide receiver vs. cornerback matchups are a somewhat controversial topic in fantasy. There’s a good chance that a team’s top wide receiver won’t even run more than 50% of his routes against any one cornerback during the course of a game, and only a handful of cornerbacks consistently shadow the offense’s best receiver on a down-by-down basis. Among those corners, only a small percentage will actually chase that receiver into the slot.

True lockdown cornerbacks are hard to find these days; only five players spent 10-plus games in shadow coverage last season. Still, Josh Norman joins Jimmy Smith and Desmond Trufant as the only cornerbacks among the 10 highest-paid players at the position that failed to shadow a receiver even once in 2017, per Pro Football Focus.

It’s Been a While Since Norman Displayed True Lockdown Skills

Norman Island wasn’t always stationary. Norman had more than his fair share of star-studded matchups against the likes of Dez BryantJulio Jones, and Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014-2016. The Panthers utilized zone coverage more than the league’s typical defense, but Norman still managed to win most of his high-profile matchups during his final season in Carolina:

  • DeAndre Hopkins: 11 targets, 5-53-0
  • Mike Evans (two games): 8 targets, 3-32-0 and 9 targets, 4-99-0
  • Dez Bryant: 8 targets, 2-26-0
  • Julio Jones (two games): 10 targets, 7-88-0 and 11 targets, 9-178-1 (thanks, Luke Kuechly)
  • Odell Beckham Jr.: 9 targets, 6-76-1

Norman proved plenty capable of shutting down some of the more physical receivers he faced, although his struggles with some of the league’s special athletes were apparent even during his first-team All-Pro campaign in 2015.

Even after the Redskins made Norman the league’s highest-paid cornerback, they weren’t eager to use him in shadow coverage. It took consecutive 100-yard performances from Antonio Brown and Bryant in 2016 before Norman was unleashed on the opposition’s top receiver, and the results weren’t great.

  • Odell Beckham Jr.: 11 targets, 7-121-0
  • Terrelle Pryor: 9 targets, 5-46-1
  • A.J. Green: 18 targets, 9-121-0
  • Dez Bryant: 7 targets, 5-72-0

Per our NFL Trends tool, wide receivers averaged only 2.4 points below salary-based expectation when shadowed by Norman in 2015-2016. The league’s truly elite talents in particular have given Norman trouble, and the idea that Norman is a kryptonite to Beckham in any way, shape, or form is a bit ridiculous:

The Redskins Look Like a Defense to Target in 2018

The 2018 Redskins defense will look a bit different without both Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller. The loss of Fuller is especially problematic for the defense’s ability to handle slot receivers, as he was Pro Football Focus’ No. 5 overall corner in 2017. Replacing Fuller and Breeland will be former Cowboys nickelback Orlando Scandrick along with holdovers Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau. Dunbar and Moreau are capable replacements for Breeland, but Scandrick was one of just 17 corners among 124 qualified defensive backs to allow over 1.5 yards per cover snap last season, per Pro Football Focus.

Norman is being paid to perform as the centerpiece of the Redskins defense, but they’re yet to see the same player that was arguably the league’s premier corners in 2014-2015.

Certain cornerbacks possess the skills and ability to shut down whoever lines up across from them. Norman no longer appears to be one of those corners.

Pictured above: Josh Norman
Photo credit: Brad Mills – USA TODAY Sports